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Dictionary.com Says “Allyship” is the 2021 Word of the Year


Dictionary.com Word of the Year announcement. | Image from Dictionary.com

As we begin to look back on 2021 and wrap up the things that have defined the year, Dictionary.com has chosen its Word of the Year: Allyship.

The word was added to the site last month but has been part of the English lexicon since the 1800s, according to Dictionary.com representative John Kelly.

Dictionary.com gives two definitions of the word:

  1. (noun) “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.”
  2. “the relationship or status of persons, groups, or nations associating and cooperating with one another for a common cause or purpose.”

Kelly told the Associated Press, “In the past few decades, the term has evolved to take on a more nuanced and specific meaning. It is continuing to evolve, and we saw that in many ways.”

On Twitter,  allyship can be found in tweets regarding the social issues surrounding race and gender equality. The term is also used when referencing how businesses, following the death of George Floyd, highlighted diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Kelly says that before allyship was added to Dictionary.com, there was a rise in searches for the word ally in 2020, with larger spikes in 2021.

Merriam-Webster says the first known printed use of the word allyship was in the 1849 novel “The Lord of the Manor, or, Lights and Shades of Country Life,” by British novelist Thomas Hall: “Under these considerations, it is possible, he might have heard of Miss Clough’s allyship with the Lady Bourgoin.”

Along with the word being added to the website, the acronym “DEI” was added, which stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and “critical race theory,” which Dictionary.com defines as “a conceptual framework that considers the impact of historical laws and social structures on the present-day perpetuation of racial inequality: first used in legal analyses, and now applied in education, communication studies, and sociology.”

Dictionary.com uses search engines, a broad range of text, and cultural influences to determine their word of the year.   

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